Last Tuesday evening the Senate passed the legislation. The legislation is intended to reform the whole process that is used by veterans when appealing for their benefits. The current system that is in operation has been keeping many veterans on the waiting list for years as they wait to get their earned disability compensation and health care.
This new legislation will creates three channels that the veterans can use to appeal their claims for benefits. Sponsors of the bill described the bill as an overhaul of the system that has been operational for decade. Now the system takes six years for a veteran to appeal for their claim with the Board of Veterans' Appeals.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., released a prepared statement, stating that the bipartisan bill will cut the red tape that was placed by the government giving the VA the needed flexibility and resources so that they can be able to process faster and more accurate claims made by veterans. Tester and Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., who are leaders of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, were the ones who sponsored the bill, while 30 senators signed on as cosponsors.
The House had passed the bill, HR 2288, on the 23rd May. The Senate had on Tuesday passed the amended version, now it has to be sent back to the House so that it can be approved and then sent to President Donald Trump to sign into law. House lawmakers will be going on a month long recess and had left Washington on Friday to start the recess.
In case the reforms are finally implemented then veterans will be able to appeal their claims directly with the Board of Veterans’ Appeals the other option for the veterans would be to request for a higher-level VA adjudicator to decide the claim. The veterans can also appeal -- only if they have new information – the appeal should be made to the same adjudicator who had denied their claim. The bill also has a new requirement of the VA notifying the veterans about the status of their appeals.
The VA leaders said that the new system will take 18 months for it to be fully established if the bill is passed.
VA Secretary David Shulkin had placed the appeals reform as one of his top priorities ever since he was confirmed by Senate in February hearing. For the past few months he has repeatedly called on the Congress to pass the legislation.
As of last week Saturday, the VA’s hands were dealing with more than 350,000 pending claims for benefits, while more than 87,000 were backlogged, this meant that the VA had been waiting for a decision for more than 125 days. As the will be working through the pending and the backlogged claims, they are expecting the number of claims to be higher. Tester have described the current process used in appealing for claims as “complex, inefficient and confusing.”
The Senate voting in the bill comes as the chamber is winding up pending work before they go for the mid-august recess.